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GOP unveils ‘diverse’ slate in move to take New Mexico House

March 11, 2020 GMT
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New Mexico Republican House candidates Dinah Vargas, left, Stella Padilla, center, and Audrey Trujillo, right, pray on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, before the GOP press conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Republicans introduced Wednesday a diverse slate of candidates they hope will flip the Democratic-controlled New Mexico House amid rural angry over a new red-flag gun law and uncertainty over oil prices. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
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New Mexico Republican House candidates Dinah Vargas, left, Stella Padilla, center, and Audrey Trujillo, right, pray on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, before the GOP press conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Republicans introduced Wednesday a diverse slate of candidates they hope will flip the Democratic-controlled New Mexico House amid rural angry over a new red-flag gun law and uncertainty over oil prices. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Republicans on Wednesday introduced the slate of candidates they hope will flip the Democratic-controlled New Mexico House amid rural anger over a new red-flag gun law and uncertainty over oil prices.

Standing in front of candidates, Republican Party of New Mexico chairman Steve Pearce announced in Albuquerque that the party had recruited 113 candidates for 101 races ahead of the June primary. Women make up nearly half of that slate, which also includes several Native American and Hispanic candidates, Pearce said.

“We are doing this step by step,” Pearce said. “One day at a time, one heart at a time.”

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He called the GOP slate one of its most diverse in its history.

Republicans have been aggressively seeking inroads in New Mexico’s Hispanic and Native American communities since the 2018 election, when Democrats won the governorship and expanded its majority in the state House. Democrats have recently faced criticism from sheriffs and gun-rights advocates over the red-flag gun law, which allows law enforcement to seek a gun confiscation order from a judge against someone deemed to be a danger.

Republican House Minority Leader James Townsend said House Democrats had moved the state too far left and appeared to be more concerned with giving tax breaks to Hollywood production companies rather than focusing on “New Mexico values.” Townsend also said Democrats approved too many spending packages despite warnings about an oil downturn.

Still, Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf predicted that Democrats would hold and expand its majority.

“I know what it takes to win back the House, ” Egolf said, referring to his efforts to recapture the majority from Republicans in 2016. “Absolutely, Republicans don’t have what it takes.”

Egolf said Democrats have strong candidates to challenges Republicans in swing districts such as the one held by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho.

Egolf said New Mexico Republicans also will be running with President Donald Trump “chained to their foot” on top of the ticket. “He’s not popular here,” Egolf said.

Among those recruited by Republicans to run for a House seat is Dinah Vargas. The resident of Albuquerque’s South Valley has tattoos and is known as an activist who protested police shooting. “I didn’t always like the president,” the self-described former conservative Democrat said. “But he’s been the best president in my lifetime.”

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Vargas, 45, said she decided to challenge well-funded Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, because she felt Democrats weren’t addressing the needs of poor residents. “I plan to shock the system and bring it to its knees,” she said.

Audrey Trujillo, 48, is taking on a well-known Democrat in her challenge against Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales. “I’m running because I think Democrats are bringing us socialism,” Trujillo said. “Their spending is hurting small businesses. It’s time to fight back.”

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This story has been corrected to say New Mexico GOP has recruited 113 candidates for 101 races ahead of the June primary.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras